Former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy still lives in Houston and has a good read on that franchise. And Van Gundy, recently named a Team USA coach for the Americas Tournament and World Cup qualifiers, isn’t sure Carmelo Anthony is “a natural fit” for a Houston team trying to dethrone the Warriors.
In Las Vegas working the summer league final four Sunday and Monday for ESPN, Van Gundy told The Post in a phone interview the Rockets need more defense, not more offense, after the Chris Paul bonanza.
“I think they have a lot on their plate integrating Paul and [James] Harden,” Van Gundy said. “They’re not going to be better offensively than they were last year. They were the second-best team in the league offensively. I thought they had defined roles everyone knew. [Coach] Mike D’Antoni did a fabulous job getting them to play on a consistent basis. The Chris Paul trade, there’s going to be some ups and downs, but they’re better equipped to win in the playoffs. Particularly if Harden has a bad night, they still have a superior player to play through. Their improvement is going to have to be defensively. So I’m interested in the Carmelo thing. I don’t necessarily see it as a natural fit.’’
The Knicks and Rockets have halted talks on the four-team trade with the arrival of general manager Scott Perry, who wants a chance to sit down with Anthony to pick his brain.
The Post reported president Steve Mills and Perry want to see whether Anthony is willing to expand his wish list. Portland, which was believed to be involved as a third team, now only wants in if they net Anthony, who has a no-trade clause. Anthony reportedly is only keen on the Rockets.
Van Gundy said he thinks Anthony would have to improve on defense for the Rockets to get a boost. Anthony lost a step on defense last season.
“He’s a very good player, yet they don’t need help offensively,” Van Gundy said. “They were a fabulous offensive team. I’m interested to see if it happens and who’s involved if it does happen. I don’t necessarily see the fit.
“Unfortunately, what they need to combat Golden State is a two-way Hall of Fame-caliber player, and they got one in Paul. So Anthony certainly is a Hall of Fame player, but whether he gives them great defensive versatility. … It is where Ryan Anderson struggled, in pick-and-rolls. So maybe Anthony will be more versatile defensively than Anderson, and maybe that’s the upgrade there.”
The legendary former Knicks coach who once warred with Phil Jackson isn’t shocked the Zen Master is gone and said he thinks it benefits coach Jeff Hornacek.
“You have to have common vision and alignment of thought of not only how to play but to conduct business,” said Van Gundy, who once derided Jackson as “Big Chief Triangle.” “They need to stay aligned in their vision and support their head coach and his vision and how to play their very best. Jeff is going to be allowed to coach without the specter of: ‘How are we going to play?’ It was constant: ‘To triangle or not to triangle.’ It was always hovering. This is going to be good for Jeff, however he chooses to play.”
Van Gundy won’t be using the triangle when he returns to the sidelines in August to coach Team USA in the Americas Cup in Uruguay. He also will coach Team USA in World Cup qualifiers in November and February. The roster will be unsigned NBA free agents and developmental-league stalwarts.
Is this a stepping stone to a return as an NBA head coach, possibly with the Knicks if Hornacek fails? Van Gundy said he never ruled out a comeback and has interviewed periodically, but it isn’t why he will be back coaching for the first time since 2007 — save for coaching his daughter’s Houston youth team.
“I miss coaching — certain elements of coaching,” Van Gundy said. “I’ve never not looked or looked. I was asked to do something and represent my country. That’s a great honor. This isn’t about what it could do for me but what I could do for USA Basketball.”